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Veterans and staff take on the VA

July 20, 2007 | Page 15

CHRIS MOBLEY and DARRIN HOOP report on Seattle antiwar activists' planned protest for veterans' rights.

SEATTLE--Antiwar activists are preparing for a July 28 protest at a Seattle Veterans Administration (VA) hospital to demand more money for veterans' care and an immediate end to the war.

The Troops Home Now Coalition will be joined by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW); members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3197, which represents workers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System Seattle Division; military families; and many others.

Demands include an immediate end to the Iraq war, full funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs, separating VA funding from war funding, and meeting the demands of AFGE members at the VA hospital--which include increased staffing, a better nurse- and staff-to-patient ratio, and extended bargaining rights to include doctors' hours, nurses' assignments and staffing.

Nationwide, a returning soldier has to wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on his or her initial disability benefits, and an appeal can take up to three years according to the California Nurses Association.

What you can do

Join the protest on July 28. Gather at Noon in front of the Jefferson Community Center at 3801 Beacon Ave. S., in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood.

The Troops Home Now Coalition meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Seattle Central Community College, Room 3200. Call 206-856-4059 or e-mail [email protected] for information.

 

In the first quarter of 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs treated 20,638 Iraq veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder. They have a backlog of 400,000 cases.

The waiting list for VA medical care in the Puget Sound region is as high as 3,000 claims. As AFGE steward Steve McFadden said in an interview, "There has been a lot of short staffing in the hospital, and that's an area we're very concerned about. There's a huge claims backlog in the VA, and that comes about by not having enough people to process claims."

In May, the Seattle VA was threatened with losing accreditation for its mental health unit after it was found not meeting requirements for patient and staff safety.

Recently, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) visited the hospital to inspect the facility--and incredibly declared that the VA was taking the necessary steps to improve its mental health unit. Yet only hours before her visit, a patient tried to kill himself by slashing his arms with glass punched out from the window of an isolation room. This followed another suicide at the American Lake facility, located south of Seattle.

It took McFadden contacting the local press for Murray's office to even respond to the incident. Now, the hospital is replacing the windows with shatterproof glass.

These are just a few of the difficulties facing medical staff within the VA system locally. Nationally, Congress currently is debating whether to increase the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs to $67 billion and add 1,000 new staff to the system.

As Chanan Suarez-Diaz, president of the Seattle chapter of IVAW, pointed out, "This government can't be serious when they declare that they support the troops when they've been cutting VA benefits. Cutting benefits completely undermines the care that these veterans deserve after being deceived into a war [and] occupation that has ruined their lives forever."

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